Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Dunes Reveal Biodiversity Secrets

26.09.2014

Ancient, acidic and nutrient-depleted dunes in Western Australia are not an obvious place to answer a question that has vexed tropical biologists for decades.

But the Jurien Bay dunes proved to be the perfect site to unravel why plant diversity varies from place to place. Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute scientist Benjamin Turner and colleagues from the University of Western Australia published findings in the Sept. 26 edition of Science showing that environmental filtering—but not a host of other theories—determines local plant diversity in one of Earth’s biodiversity hotspots.

Turner and colleagues examined plant communities and soil development across a sequence of dunes ranging in age from a few decades to more than 2 million years. The dunes form as sand piles up along the coastline of Western Australia during periods of high sea level. The youngest dunes contain abundant soil nutrients but are home to relatively few plant species, whereas the oldest dunes have some of the most infertile soils in the world yet support many species of plants.

The differences in diversity of plants on the dunes are much better explained by environmental filtering—the exclusion of species from the regional flora that are poorly adapted to local conditions—than by alternative ideas related to competition for resources.

“Ecologists have long sought to understand what explains variation in species diversity among sites,” said Helene Muller-Landau, STRI staff scientist. “This elegant study shows that variation in plant species diversity among dunes of different ages, and thus different soils, is explained mainly by variation in the size of the pool of species adapted to these differing conditions.” Biogeographical and historical factors, like the total area in the region with similar conditions today and in the past, are primary, while factors such as competition for soil resources are much less important in explaining variation in species diversity.

“A number of mechanisms have been proposed to explain plant diversity along resource gradients, but they have not previously been tested simultaneously,” Turner said. “The Jurien Bay chronosequence allowed us to do this, and gave a clear result—that local plant diversity is explained primarily by environmental filtering from the regional flora.”

Jurien Bay is a rare example of a long-term chronosequence of soils in a species-rich ecosystem, making it an ideal location to test biodiversity theory.

“A challenge now is to examine this process along chronosequences in other species-rich ecosystems,” Turner said. “Unfortunately, there are as yet no long-term soil chronosequences with intact vegetation known under diverse lowland tropical forest.”

Turner expects the findings to spark a flurry of debate, but emphasizes that the research does not seek to explain the maintenance of biodiversity within individual communities, only how it varies among communities. Theories such as negative density dependence—that natural enemies maintain diversity in species-rich plant communities—are not challenged by this work, he said.

“It’s important to recognize that resource competition or other mechanisms can still maintain diversity,” Turner said. “But in terms of explaining why plant diversity varies from place to place, our results indicate that environmental filtering is the overriding explanation. ”

“I suspect that the answers will be different for different ecosystems in different places,” Muller-Landau said. “Here in Panama, and throughout the tropics, wet forests tend to have much higher species diversity than dry forests. This pattern is generally explained in terms of differences in ecological conditions, especially wet forests being more conducive to pathogen attack. But we’re not sure if this is the correct explanation. A study like this would help us to sort that out.”

Laliberté, E., Zemunik, G., Turner, B.L. (2014) Environmental filtering explains variation in plant diversity along resource gradients. Science 345 (6204; 26th September).

Beth King | Eurek Alert!
Further information:
http://newsdesk.si.edu/releases/dunes-reveal-biodiversity-secrets

More articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation:

nachricht Scientists team up on study to save endangered African penguins
16.11.2017 | Florida Atlantic University

nachricht Climate change: Urban trees are growing faster worldwide
13.11.2017 | Technische Universität München

All articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Nanoparticles help with malaria diagnosis – new rapid test in development

The WHO reports an estimated 429,000 malaria deaths each year. The disease mostly affects tropical and subtropical regions and in particular the African continent. The Fraunhofer Institute for Silicate Research ISC teamed up with the Fraunhofer Institute for Molecular Biology and Applied Ecology IME and the Institute of Tropical Medicine at the University of Tübingen for a new test method to detect malaria parasites in blood. The idea of the research project “NanoFRET” is to develop a highly sensitive and reliable rapid diagnostic test so that patient treatment can begin as early as possible.

Malaria is caused by parasites transmitted by mosquito bite. The most dangerous form of malaria is malaria tropica. Left untreated, it is fatal in most cases....

Im Focus: A “cosmic snake” reveals the structure of remote galaxies

The formation of stars in distant galaxies is still largely unexplored. For the first time, astron-omers at the University of Geneva have now been able to closely observe a star system six billion light-years away. In doing so, they are confirming earlier simulations made by the University of Zurich. One special effect is made possible by the multiple reflections of images that run through the cosmos like a snake.

Today, astronomers have a pretty accurate idea of how stars were formed in the recent cosmic past. But do these laws also apply to older galaxies? For around a...

Im Focus: Visual intelligence is not the same as IQ

Just because someone is smart and well-motivated doesn't mean he or she can learn the visual skills needed to excel at tasks like matching fingerprints, interpreting medical X-rays, keeping track of aircraft on radar displays or forensic face matching.

That is the implication of a new study which shows for the first time that there is a broad range of differences in people's visual ability and that these...

Im Focus: Novel Nano-CT device creates high-resolution 3D-X-rays of tiny velvet worm legs

Computer Tomography (CT) is a standard procedure in hospitals, but so far, the technology has not been suitable for imaging extremely small objects. In PNAS, a team from the Technical University of Munich (TUM) describes a Nano-CT device that creates three-dimensional x-ray images at resolutions up to 100 nanometers. The first test application: Together with colleagues from the University of Kassel and Helmholtz-Zentrum Geesthacht the researchers analyzed the locomotory system of a velvet worm.

During a CT analysis, the object under investigation is x-rayed and a detector measures the respective amount of radiation absorbed from various angles....

Im Focus: Researchers Develop Data Bus for Quantum Computer

The quantum world is fragile; error correction codes are needed to protect the information stored in a quantum object from the deteriorating effects of noise. Quantum physicists in Innsbruck have developed a protocol to pass quantum information between differently encoded building blocks of a future quantum computer, such as processors and memories. Scientists may use this protocol in the future to build a data bus for quantum computers. The researchers have published their work in the journal Nature Communications.

Future quantum computers will be able to solve problems where conventional computers fail today. We are still far away from any large-scale implementation,...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Ecology Across Borders: International conference brings together 1,500 ecologists

15.11.2017 | Event News

Road into laboratory: Users discuss biaxial fatigue-testing for car and truck wheel

15.11.2017 | Event News

#Berlin5GWeek: The right network for Industry 4.0

30.10.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

UCLA engineers use deep learning to reconstruct holograms and improve optical microscopy

22.11.2017 | Medical Engineering

Watching atoms move in hybrid perovskite crystals reveals clues to improving solar cells

22.11.2017 | Materials Sciences

New study points the way to therapy for rare cancer that targets the young

22.11.2017 | Health and Medicine

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>